Daily Archives: May 27, 2013

Saul’s Side-kick

SAUL’S SIDE-KICK

“Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. He found him and brought him back to Antioch. They were there a whole year, meeting with the church and teaching a lot of people. It was in Antioch that the disciples were for the first time called Christians.” Acts 11:25-26 (The Message).

Luke shines the light on the two main characters of his story, Peter and Saul. Up to this point, Peter was in the limelight, with Saul making brief appearances as a kind of introduction. Peter’s function and influence was in and around Jerusalem and in widening circles around Israel. He was the natural leader of the new movement, together with James and John until James’ untimely death at the hands of Herod.

Saul appeared briefly in Jerusalem before and after his conversion but he was essentially an out-of-Jerusalem Jew. His hometown was Tarsus in Asia Minor to which he was smartly returned when his fiery preaching stirred up trouble in Judea. He disappeared off the scene for a while until Barnabas, realising his worth as a teacher, fetched him from Tarsus and brought him to Antioch to ground the new non-Jewish believes in the Scriptures.

What a Bible School that must have been! As a rabbi, Saul was well-versed in the Scriptures and, with the Holy Spirit as his teacher, he was able to anchor the new converts in the accurate understanding of the Messianic prophecies and of Jesus as their fulfilment.

Saul himself was being enlightened as he taught, honing his understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus as the Messiah, qualifying him to be a skilful exponent of the good news. All these factors were preparing him for what lay ahead, pioneer missionary, author of many of the writings which would later be gathered together into the sacred volume of the Book, and martyr for Jesus.

Although Barnabas was initially the leader, his major role was to be Saul’s side-kick in the missionary enterprise. Without the support of Barnabas, Saul might never have been recognised as the significant and prominent figure he was to become in the history of the early church.

God has room for every kind of person and every gift in the growth of His kingdom on earth. No one is greater than anyone else regardless of whether he is in the limelight or not. We all fit together in an amazing mosaic of divine purpose. Our reward lies, not in the visibility of what we are doing, but in the effectiveness of our obedience to our calling. Had Barnabas not been who he was and done what he did, Saul might never have been in the right place at the right time to become who he was to the church.

Like Jonathan in the Old Testament, who was willing to play second fiddle to David, knowing that David would take his place as king of Israel, God needs people who are not bent on making a name for themselves but are there to stand by and support another chosen by God for leadership. These are the truly great people of the kingdom without whom God’s purposes will not be fulfilled. What an important role they play!

It takes wisdom and humility to promote and support someone else. Your name may never appear in the history books but it will be written on the palm of God’s hand.

“Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15; 58 (NIV).

Explosion in a Paint Tin

EXPLOSION IN A PAINT TIN

“Those who had been scattered by the persecution triggered by Stephen’s death travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, but they were still only speaking and dealing with their fellow Jews. Then some of the men from Cyprus and Cyrene who had come to Antioch started talking to Greeks, giving them the Message of the Master Jesus. God was pleased with what they were doing and put His stamp of approval on it — quite a number of the Greeks believed and turned to the Master.” Acts 11:19-21 (The Message).

Persecution spread the church like an explosion in a tin of paint. Wherever the believers went, they coloured their environment with the good news of Jesus. In less than one generation, the church had spread north, south, east and west. Blowing like a fresh breeze through communities which were stale and stagnant with old religions, the Holy Spirit brought new life to people of every colour and culture.

Although some had not yet broken out of their old inhibitions, others boldly proclaimed new life in Jesus across racial barriers and found, to their surprise and joy that God was approving their initiative by giving life to non-Jews in Jesus’ name. Believers from as far afield as Cyrene in Africa and Crete in the Mediterranean Sea, congregated in Syrian Antioch and shared the good news with Greeks living there.

“When the church in Jerusalem got wind of this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to check on things. As soon as he arrived, he saw that God was behind and in it all. He threw himself in with them, got behind them, urging them to stay with it the rest of their lives. He was a good man that way, enthusiastic and confident in the Holy Spirit’s ways. The community grew large and strong in the Master.” Acts 11:22-24 (The Message).

Syrian Antioch was coming alive in Christ and becoming a centre of Christian faith and worship. Once again the church in Jerusalem took the initiative to check on the authenticity of this new outbreak. Barnabas, a trusted man though not an apostle, was sent to find out what was happening. He was an outgoing man and an optimist. He had stood by Saul when the church in Jerusalem was suspicious of his “conversion” and kept him at arm’s length until Barnabas vouched for him.

Barnabas was excited and enthusiastic about what he saw and heard. The Holy Spirit had done a work in the hearts of Greeks and he was quick to recognise and acknowledge them as fellow-believers. In his customary positive way, he urged them to stay with their new-found faith in Jesus. Once again the power of this new life resonated in many hearts and the church continued to flourish in non-Jewish soil.

Jesus had once assured His disciples, in full view of the most disgusting public display of pagan religious orgies at Caesarea Philippi, Israel’s “red light district”, that His church would be planted and grow right in the heart of environments like the one they were witnessing. “On this rock,” He had said, “I will build my church and not even the Gate of Hell, (the supposed entrance into the demonic underworld); will be able to hold it back.” True to His word, the church was growing and flourishing right in the environment of hostile Jewish religious legalism and wicked and promiscuous pagan religions.

What was the key to this phenomenal growth? Through the power and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the church was a family held together by love and unity. Wherever the Holy Spirit ruled, the church remained pure and people were attracted to something they had never seen or experienced before. It had to be God; these groups of people doing life together was a supernatural thing.

Every life rescued from sin and self and reconnected to Jesus, became connected to every other life in Jesus. The result was families of people of different languages and cultures sharing and caring for each other like they were blood brothers and sisters. When God’s love holds sway, the world does not have an answer for the power that attracts broken people and draws them into the love and unity of this Body.

Free from the guilt and shame of their past lives, they experienced the forgiveness of sins and a new peace and joy that lifted them above petty differences and brought them into fellowship with Jesus and with one another. This was nothing short of the power of God!

On The Mat

ON THE MAT!

“The news travelled fast and in no time the leaders and friends back in Jerusalem heard about it — heard that the non-Jewish “outsiders” were now “in”. When Peter got back to Jerusalem, some of his old associates, concerned about circumcision, called him on the carpet. ‘What do you think you’re doing, rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?'”

“So Peter, starting from the beginning, laid it out before them, step by step:….” Acts 11:1-4 (The Message).

“Hearing it all laid out like that, they quieted down. And then, as it sank in, they started praising God. ‘It’s really happened! God has broken through to the other nations, opened them up to Life.'” Acts 11:18 (The Message).

Traditions and taboos — the worst enemies of the cross! These men had yet to learn that God’s grace is for everyone. They were still clutching the tattered rags of their racial pride, still believing, in spite of their pitiful history, that they were exclusively God’s people. Externals were their passport to God’s favour, so they thought; circumcision and food taboos, of all things, their hope!

Like Peter, they needed to be jolted out of their fool’s paradise. They needed a new revelation of the nature of this God who revealed Himself in Jesus. Not even the years they spent in His company were enough to erase the misconceptions their religion had bred into them.

What had they heard that piqued them? True to form, the grapevine had produced a twisted version. By the time it reached their ears, it was enough to make them turn on Peter. “That crowd…eating what is prohibited…ruining our good name…” Strange how gossip cancels out friendship and the loyalty of those who should know better!

It would have to be a good story for Peter to get himself out of this one and, fortunately, his story was convincing enough to show up their arrogance towards him. Once they had heard the correct version, their attitude changed, fortunately, and they were convinced that Peter’s little excursion into “enemy” territory, was actually a revelation of God’s plan.

The most dangerous enemies of the church are not the “outsiders” who attack out of ignorance but the “insiders” whose traditions cancel out the truth of God’s word. This was Jesus’ unresolved issue with the religious leaders who eventually had Him executed because they would not honestly consider the evidence.

Jesus warned that the entrance to life is small and the way narrow. “Truth is a knife edge and error a wide flat land” I once heard a preacher say. The work that Jesus did on the cross is sufficient for all people for all time. He does not need our petty little additions to complete what His death accomplished. He does not need any qualifications like “circumcision’, whatever the equivalent is, and eating “kosher” food to make us more acceptable to Him than we are now.

There is nothing we can do to influence His attitude of mercy towards us because it comes out of who He is, not because of who we are. God is not obliged to do anything for us but He does because He is God.

The people who are so stuck on their traditions that they believe them rather than the truth of God’s word are a stumbling block to “outsiders” who want to know God. Imagine what would have happened to Cornelius and his associates had Peter allowed his tradition to overshadow God’s instruction! He would have planted himself squarely in front of their entrance into eternal life

Jesus still says, “Follow me!” That’s all…..